NSW Covid update: health officials increasingly confident cases will plateau next week

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  • Dominic Perrottet
    Australian politician

School closures will be ‘last resort’ in case of outbreaks, Dominic Perrottet says as state reports record 29 deaths


Health officials in New South Wales say they are increasingly confident new cases of Covid-19 will begin to plateau next week, as Dominic Perrottet declares that schools will only close as a “last resort” in the case of outbreaks once classes resume.

NSW reported another record day of deaths from the virus on Friday, the third time the peak has been broken this week, with 29 people succumbing. A further 63,018 new cases of Covid-19 were also recorded, 37,938 of those from rapid tests.

But despite conceding that the health system is under significant strain as a result of the surging Omicron outbreak, with a fall in the number of overall hospitalisations in the state due in part to the suspension of non-urgent elective surgery until February, the government is increasingly confident it has avoided disaster.

Related: NSW premier ‘shocked’ by footage of Hillsong members dancing and singing at youth camp

There are 2,341 people with Covid-19 in hospital, below the modelling for a best-case scenario released last week by the government. ICU numbers also continue to track below the best-case scenarios. While the government did not include updated projections in its modelling, the NSW deputy health secretary Susan Pearce said it was “very pleasing” to see the modelling falling into what she called the “most optimistic” range.

“I want to be clear though about that, please don’t take that as meaning our health system is not under pressure,” she said.

“Modelling ultimately is modelling and behind every line and dot on that page are people … we expect that pressure on our hospitals to continue for at least the next few weeks, although what we are starting to become increasingly confident of is that we will see a plateau next week.

“That is pleasing, but that plateau is obviously still at a relatively high level of Covid patients in our hospitals and our ICUs. The relationship between hospitalisations and cases and what we’re projecting is turning up quite well and does give us a degree of confidence about where we’re headed into the next couple of weeks.”

Perrottet also conceded the health system is “under pressure”, saying it would be a “difficult few weeks ahead”. But the premier said the modelling was “encouraging, reassuring, and pleasing”.

He confirmed that the government had agreed to a national cabinet resolution to extend isolation exemptions for a swathe of workers, which has been attacked by unions who say the plan forces essential workers “to put themselves in harm’s way” to keep the economy running.

With the beginning of the school year less than three weeks away, Perrottet said NSW was working with Victoria to finalise a plan to be taken to national cabinet next Thursday. He did not rule out extending the critical worker exemptions to teachers deemed close contacts but who have no symptoms and return negative rapid antigen tests, saying he would not provide a “running commentary” on the plan.

“What I will say is we will have kids back in school on day one term one in an environment that is safe for teachers and students,” he said.

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School closures would be a “last resort” under the plan, and said there was a “strong possibility” rapid antigen tests would be used in classrooms as part of the return-to-school plan.

The chief health officer, Dr Kerry Chant, said she expected that up to 50% of the state’s population could become infected with Covid-19 during the first wave of the Omicron variant.

“Not all of those will have symptomatic infection or even know that they’ve been infected,” she said. “There still will be people that have not experienced or been exposed to Omicron.”

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